Introduction: Ulrich Beck : Risk as Indeterminate Modernity

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journal

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-129
Journal / PublicationTheory, Culture and Society
Issue number7-8
Online published10 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


This serves as an introduction to this section on Beck and as a standalone essay. In it we see that the writers in this section understand Beck's risk as modernity itself. And in this context risk's reflexive modernity is understood as ‘indeterminate modernity’. The essay thematizes a radically subjectivist reading of Beck's risk. It sees reflexivity as opposed to the objectivism and positivism of Kant's (first) critique of pure reason, and instead in terms of the subjectivity of Kant's third aesthetic critique. Thus, Beck's subjectivist risk and indeterminate modernity focuses not on Kantian and positivist first-modernity ‘cause’ but instead on second and indeterminate-modernity ‘consequence’. This entails significant levels of (Kierkegaardian) anxiety on the part of individuals as well as the possibility of enhanced happiness. The latter is understood in terms of, again, the subjectivist psychology of Daniel Kahneman's behaviouralist economics. This is a substantivist (and not formalist) economics and dovetails with Weber's Methodenstreit between the substantivism of the Historical School and the formalism of neoclassical economics. The essay closes with a look at how this radically subjectivist and substantivist reflexivity is the basis for a panoply of non-normative institutions in Beck's vision of global cosmopolitanism.

Research Area(s)

  • anxiety, indeterminate modernity, institutions, reflexivity, risk, subjectivism vs objectivism, substantivism vs formalism